Lashana Lynch isn’t new to playing strong female characters onscreen, but that doesn’t mean preparing for them isn’t daunting. In her new film The Woman King, Lynch stars alongside Viola Davis as Izogie, a member of the ruthless all-female African warrior group called Agojie. Izogie is fearless in combat while also training the next generation of warriors. Lynch won the part without having to audition after an instant connection with director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Lynch tells The Zoe Report for the Sept. 22 cover story titled “All Hail Lashana Lynch.” “I wanted to write more for her,” Prince-Bythewood said about Lynch’s presence in her film. “I wanted to give her more. I wanted to keep building Izogie to honor how dope Lashana is.”

Naturally, playing a warrior of Izogie’s stature called for some intense training, especially since Prince-Bythewood wanted Lynch to perform her own stunts. “To get up and go to the gym every single day can be really traumatizing,” Lynch said, detailing how she would spend three or four hours at the gym after wrapping a day’s worth of filming for her roles in Matilda and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and continued the routine while on a press tour for her James Bond film No Time To Die. Oftentimes, these workouts would only begin after 6 p.m.

But the intense training with trainer Gabriela Mclain and stunt coordinator Daniel Hernandez wasn’t just for her physical appearance. “It was truly the physical training that got me in the space where I was even able to figure out how I train the recruits,” she elaborated about how it affected her mental preparedness. “What would the morning routine be like? How does she put herself aside in order to inject life into these young girls?”

Lynch found other points of connection with her character that extended beyond Izogie’s physicality. “I cannot relate to having a dagger in my chest. I cannot relate to wielding a machete,” she said. “However, I can relate to turning my trauma into beauty, and channeling it into physical work, and throwing yourself into really taking care of young people, especially young Black girls who aspire to be something great.”

She also made sure she struck the right balance of power and humor. “I didn’t want the young girls to be afraid of Izogie, but I wanted them to fear her just enough that they flinch somewhat when she passes them by,” Lynch recalls. “I found that humor was the best way to go with that, because they’re children and she sees a little bit of herself in them.”

The actor elaborated that working on The Woman King set, though demanding, was one of the best experiences of her career simply because she was surrounded by like-minded people. “I didn’t have to explain myself,” she said. “I didn’t have to explain why this thing in the script doesn’t make sense to a Black woman. Or as a dark-skinned woman, if the scene is set in a corner, how are we going to light it? Will you see me? There’s all these conversations that I didn’t have to have that made me so relaxed.”

For more on Lashana Lynch’s journey, read the full “All Hail Lashana Lynch” cover story on TZR, written by author Esther Zuckerman and shot by photographer Christian Cody.

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